An unapologetic homage to the genre colliding sensibilities of From Dusk Till Dawn by way of classic New York gang flick The Warriors, Proceeds of Crime joins top dog female gang The Birds of Prey as they brazenly terrorise the city streets until inadvertently selecting a target who proves to be much greater predator than themselves. A film inspired by Venezuela’s Piranha hair attacks, we catch up with DN alum James Chappell (last seen on DN here) to discover how the Australian director looked to Berlin’s techno underground to style his fearsome anti-hero foursome and why this passion project ultimately became an extended learning curve lesson.

How did this dark world of a rampaging girl gang, snipped off ponytails and demonic creatures come into being?

The idea came about when I was introduced to Charles Waterstreet, he wanted to fund a short film about women with shaved heads cutting the hair off women. This was all inspired by similar attacks by female gangs on women in Venezuela and Brazil. I thought this was a great idea for a short film so I went away and wrote a short script and off we were.

The film took 3 years to make and took 4 years to release online. Because of funding taking so long, we shot the film in two parts, one scene in 2015 and the rest in 2017. There was one point where I nearly gave up on the film, it’s such hard work pulling favours with no money but I persisted and enlisted a great team with DOP Aaron McLisky and VFX company Gloria FX… Max Colt was our VFX producer. They helped create the vampire teeth and snakeskin monster women at the climax of the movie. Blood and gore effects were also made by them. Practical SFX was also done by Lucy Wooflman, a very talented special effects make up artist in Sydney.

It’s not perfect by any means but a learning curve that took ages to finish its lesson.

We shot on the Arri Alexa with Panavision Spherical PVintage lenses around the gritty, industrial area of Marrickville, NSW in Sydney, Australia, an area which looks like downtown LA and gave us an amazing look and feel with the locations. I wanted it to be dark and creepy and this was the perfect area to shoot at night.

Once the film was finished I toured it around horror festivals — Brooklyn Horror, Soho Horror, Hollywood Horrorfest, Arizona Underground, Nightmares Film Fest, Sydney Underground. I finally released it online recently and it was Vimeo Staff Picked. I’m happy to finally release it and move on! It’s not perfect by any means but a learning curve that took ages to finish its lesson.

I love the individual yet coherent style of the Birds of Prey, how did you find this nihilistic quartet and what were the references behind their look?

Basically, my main cinematic reference was The Warriors… NY gangster film from the 70s but make it female and modern! I’d been travelling to Berlin each year and frequenting a night club called Berghain which has the most amazing fashion… Black leather BDSM meets sportswear and punk fashion. I wanted to blend that grunge rock look with a techno-punk aesthetic.

My main actor Sabrina Haley, I’d been following on Instagram and she basically was the inspiration for Miss Hogg. She is the manager of a crazy famous grunge rock bar in the city, she runs it and everyone knows her. She’s a real life badass, she loves bats, the occult, demons, dark stuff. She embraces it, so this film was perfect for her. On brand you could say! haha

So I cast from real life and she re-shaved her head for the role. She also got more tattoos between filming each section of the film including a neck tattoo saying I AM DEMON which further added to the vibes of the film…. a cheeky continuity issue that we got away with.

I wanted to blend that grunge rock look with a techno-punk aesthetic.

It was quite hard to find a few shaven headed women who can act and look the part, it was slim pickings but I used Facebook to ask people if they had any friends with shaved heads. I actually cast one of my primary school mates Ashleigh Mcfarlane who happened to also live and party in Berlin and style herself in the alternative fashion style I was looking for. Since I had been inspired by the people and sights around me in Berlin, I ended up casting those people that I was originally fascinated by due to their style and attitude.

I’m imagining that there were a plethora of elements to track for the final fight, how much of a challenge was it to pull off that set piece?

The ending set piece was the most difficult due to time and money, my ambitions were high for the final fight scene and confrontation but I really needed another day to make it work properly. I think the ending was my biggest downfall… I had planned to do a reshoot and film a high key slow motion action scene like my music video Bones which you featured on Directors Notes years ago but I didn’t have the money or resources to do it. I wish I’d have done that. It’s still my only regret. I think for that reason the film works more as a ‘proof of concept’ short film and less of a well rounded punctuated short film. The end scene was meant to be a big payoff but was a little clunky due to the shortcomings of my budget and planning.

Either way, it was a huge learning curve. I tried to build a world, visuals and atmosphere with little money and I think I achieved that perhaps at the detriment to an actual meaningful and cohesive storyline. The visuals and style worked but next time I’ll be putting more time into the script.

I tried to build a world, visuals and atmosphere with little money and I think I achieved that.

What do you have in store for us in the future?

I’m currently shooting music videos and TV commercials. I’ve just been nominated for Best Video at the ARIA’s for Choir by Guy Sebastian which is Australia’s version of The Grammys. I’m about to shoot a cool fantasy narrative video concept for his next video Let Me Drink.

I’ve written a couple of short films which I plan to shoot before the end of the year. I’m also working on my first feature film script which is like a blend of American Beauty and Scream.

Proceeds of Crime is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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